Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: September 5, 2017
Received From: NetGalley
Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class―and the nobles who destroyed their home.
When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.
But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.
GENDER: genderfluid, cisgender
TROPES: deadly competition, there can only be one, class disparity
TAGS: fantasy, suspense, thriller, young adult, queer characters, disabled characters, POC characters
WARNINGS: classism, murder, violence, explicit violence, drugs/poisons, misgendering, self-harm
“There’s not enough innocence left in this world after all we’ve done to it.”
***The main character Sal is genderfluid and uses she/her, he/him, and they/them, depending on how they are presenting that day. For the purposes of this review, I will be using they/them so as to avoid any unintentional misgendering.***
Mask of Shadows is a thrilling, labyrinthine story of murder, revenge, and political intrigue. Miller flawlessly weaves together a world in which one person’s lifelong desire for vengeance correlates with the secrets wishes of the crown, making the impossible possible and giving the main character opportunities they may not have achieved otherwise.
This story is stunning and evocative, exploring the moral ambiguity that comes with being part of The Left Hand, an assassin for the queen. Throughout the novel, Sal is always very aware of what they are doing and the repercussions, both in the physical world and the spiritual world. They carry with them the weight of their decimated people and the lingering traces of their religion, and this influences most, if not all, of their actions. They offer their blood to the Lady for every kill they make, seeking repentance though they know they will never be truly free of their transgressions. They accept this and recognize that it is an aspect of their life they will have to deal with, if they truly want to achieve their goals.
However, by far the most incredible element was the casual inclusion of multiple facets of diversity. There are multiple disable characters, most notably Sal’s childhood friend and one of the current members of The Left Hand. Several POC characters are actively involved in the plot, including fellow auditioners who Sal must compete with and the regal, powerful Queen of Igna.
And then of course there are the queer characters, who were so effortlessly woven into the story, without undue fanfare. Sal, the main character is genderfluid and bisexual/pansexual; Elise, the love interest, is bisexual/pansexual; another character is made canonically queer when Sal notices him in the embrace of another man; and a fourth character is aromantic–she reveals this to Sal in conversation and there isn’t so much as a moment of hesitation before it’s simply accepted. Also, nearly everyone is very chill about Sal’s alternating pronouns and use the appropriate ones for how they’re presenting that day as they wish. The other characters don’t hesitate to clarify Sal’s pronouns, in order to avoid misgendering, and if anyone uses the incorrect ones, another character steps in to correct them, without fail.
There are some moments where the plot seems to drag a little bit, but that is mostly when you are receiving necessary explanations or pieces of information in between action packed scenes. It’s not a detriment to the overall plot, just general pacing that takes a moment to get used to.
This book is beautifully written and is blessedly unpredictable. I recommend everyone pick up a copy and read it.
A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology coming in September 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.